LAX makes me think of palm trees. And purple and blue geometric shapes. I know that makes me a fool.
Suffice it to say, I still have some silly, romantical ideas about what it means to travel. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to believe that it was only one year ago that I was leaving the country for the first time since I was a child to go to London with my classmates. Who was that girl who watched breathlessly out the windows during the descent into Heathrow, admiring the view of the buildings from thousands of feet above and all the way down to the greenery by the runway? And who was that girl who obsessed for weeks over some nerd in the tube who had looked at her in a certain way? Who walked around the city in high heels until her feet bled and whose friends ordered her gin and tonic at bars, even though she could have gotten one herself? I feel as though I hardly know her.
The trip to JFK was fairly uneventful. Probably for that very reason, the anxiety crept up on me when I got on the plane. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding until we finally got up in the air. Really, it’s always the anticipation that kills me.
Then, when I got to the hotel by the airport in Jamaica Queens past 2 AM, the first thing I did was a bunch of frantic Google searches on the tap water because I was super thirsty on account of the humidity, fresh out, and of course it was an ungodly hour so I couldn’t buy any. I’m one of those assholes who gets persnickety about drinking water. It was hard to sleep that night because my heart was pounding because I needed sleep. Quite the vicious circle. Nonetheless, when I sprang out of bed at 9 AM, fully awake, my hormones in sync somehow with the local time, I was ready to put the weird night past me and get out into the city!
I dropped off my bags at the Ludlow, which was to be my real hotel. I regrouped with some yogurt and headed out to the Tenement Museum.
I did one tour at the Museum, which was called “Hard Times.” We went inside a tenement that had been preserved and converted into a museum. This tenement had been built in the late nineteenth century and was occupied until the 1930’s, when it was condemned. You might think that a tenement would be completely shabby, but not this one. The inside was dark and hot and depressing, but there were some nice touches, like the moldings, wall art, ornate archways and things in the hallways. Nonetheless, the place would have been super crowded with twenty-two families plus two business operating in the basement level, if I remember correctly. We went inside the kitchen where quaint old containers of starch and other relics were placed about, along with a dining table and ironing board. The daughter of the family who had lived there during the Great Depression recreated the setup of their old family kitchen. She had many fond childhood memories of gathering with her family for meals and playing board games with her father there, in spite of the fact that it all took place during the Depression and there was an old cottage cheese box from the government relief organization they had at that time to prove it.
The whole time the tour was going on, I felt a little faint, but not to the point of seeing colors or anything like that. Definitely some travel exhaustion. It was really hot in there, and I had nothing to drink and nothing to fan myself with. I kept imagining myself passing out in front of all of those people. Somehow, I persisted through the tour, more out of pride than anything else. I just didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t last five minutes in the tenement. I suppose it could have been worse. At least there were some open windows and a couple fans so you would get a waft of fresh air every now and again. Boy, I still felt terrible though, but I’m proud of myself for sticking it out to the bitter end. Anxiety be damned. I think that’s really the theme of this whole trip. I should get that on a t-shirt.
I officially checked into the Ludlow after the tour. So far, I could not be more pleased. The staff is very friendly and my room is out of this world. I’ve got these rich Moroccan bed posts, what appears to be marble countertops, cool retro brass fixtures, and some arm chairs and a table that evoke some mid-century Hollywood glamor. It all just works for me.
I hiked up to Mickey Likes It Ice Cream in East Village and wandered around Tompkins Square Park eating my double-scoop Pink Floyd. Which is strawberry and pieces of cheesecake. It suited me just fine. There was some kind of event going on there. People were lying in the grass sunbathing, in bathing suits often. Just all in one area. I thought there was live music, but I could find no band so it was just a sunbathing party of some kind. Puzzling.
I ate a very strange early dinner at Speedy Romeo’s. They asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar, and I said yes for some reason. So I got to listen to the waitresses gossiping. I don’t know if it made me feel less alone or if it had kind of the opposite effect. But the pizza made up for it. I liked that the thin crust was burned in the woodfire oven. I liked the Parmesan and all these other rich cheeses, cheeses that I’ve never even heard of but that reminded me of Delice de Bourgogne from Trader Joe’s with that kind of truffly taste. And I liked the little thin slices of garlic. It makes me think of one of those gangster movies… was it The Godfather or Goodfellas? That scene where they’re slicing the garlic really thin with a razor blade. That gets to me.
So, that was my day.
Sometimes, I still wonder why I’m here all alone, even though this is exactly what I wanted, and I can see many advantages to it. Sure, I’ve got my slogan. But is this trip really going to make me a better writer or a better person? Will I be purified eventually by the condensation water from air conditioners that keeps falling on me? Who’s to say.
Oddly enough, when I was taking this picture, there was a man nearby yelling and cussing into his iPhone earbud mic about social media. He was attracting some attention. Then again, it was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s always more reassuring when you see someone yelling and cussing with the earbuds hanging down versus the earbuds not hanging down. Without challenging the tacit assumptions about human behavior behind that judgment… well it was just an interesting juxtaposition. At one point, he said something like, “that’s just a reality you created.” Actually, it sounded even more profound than that. What can I say? Crazy or not, he’s right about that.